Yikes! I think I opened a Pandora's box with my DR chairs

valinsvDecember 8, 2008

I started working on my DR chairs today. The seats are all removed and I have removed both layers of upholstery on the seats. Wow, I knew this set was a diamond in the rough, but never realized just quite how much until today. Still, it is an amazing set with 8 chairs intact (one of the arm chairs was damaged when I purchased it and I had professionally repaired). First of all, I just have to say I am so glad I decided to remove the existing upholstery and start fresh with new foam and batting instead of just putting the new fabric over the existing stuff. Here is what I found below:

Other than a sore back from wrenching out all the old staples and tacks I think this is doable. Of greater concern is some damage I found to the frames with two of the chairs:

Now I am a DIY kind of gal, but my gut feel is this will need a professional repair. I am just trying to balance out the added cost of that together with the loss in value (not to mention sentiment) if I try to do it myself and then they break in the future. My DH is on a business trip and I was hoping to have it done when he returned--he is NOT going to be thrilled when I tell him this. Perhaps it is just a simple glue and clamp job though which he can tackle when he comes home. What do you guys think? Cliffandjoann, any suggestions?

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To me, this looks like an easy glue-and-clamp job.

If you really want to pay someone to do it, I'll be right over. : )

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 8:15AM
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Yup, its a an easy DIY repair. And I have to admit that I have been known to shove the corner tight together by hand until able to glue and clamp. Your chairs are in really great shape and beautiful.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 8:46AM
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Hey Val!
I agree, glue & clamp. My DH swears by Gorilla glue - you can buy this at HD or Lowes - maybe even Wally World(not sure). Just be careful not to apply too much - when the glue dries it expands & will bubble past the seam - just watch it as it is drying.

Your DH will be so proud when he returns home & you did this yourself!!


    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 9:15AM
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Just a thought, if you DIY don't forget to put something between the clamp and the chair- like a thin piece of ply or a flat piece of wood. You will want to tighten the joint with the clamp and you dont want impressions of the clamp on the chair.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 10:39AM
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Here's a hint when gluing something. I've found that glue will not stick to Reynold's Non-Stick aluminum foil. If I need to weight or clamp something I'm gluing, I put a piece of that foil on it and the seepage doesn't stick to it.

You can also squirt some glue onto the non-stick side and then dip something into to apply the glue with.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 10:40AM
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Wow, you've all reassurred me to go ahead with the glue and clamp. I thought for sure you'd all say to take them in. Whew! (wiping the sweat off my brow). I'm not quite sure where the clamp would go though? I'm sure my neighbor would have a clamp--he's an ameteur woodworker so I'll probably consult with him. Should I fix them before or after I do the cleaning and Restore-a-Finish? Perhaps: clean, glue, then RAF in that order?

Johna: Aren't you glad I didn't put your lovely fabric over those cushions? Yuck! Thanks for the suggestion of Gorilla glue. I'll look for that. Really, there is a store called Wally World??? Chevy Chase wouldn't by any chance be the owner would he?

OK, my back is still aching and I've only ripped out the staples/tacks on two seat cushions. I know I could leave them in, but there are so many and will making putting in the new staples much easier. Six more to go....

Last question about the foam/batting. Looking at the one chair where the whole front section of the fabric was torn off, I'm thinking I should put cut the foam to the size of the base (perhaps 1/2" smaller?), but for the batting I should wrap it around so that the fabric does not touch any of the plywood so that my fabric will not tear as the old one did.

When I asked the fabric store how to cut the foam (1") they suggested using an electric carving knife. I could borrow one from a friend, but am wondering if there is a better way--or I can just use a good scissors.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 11:41AM
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I would just use scissors. It doesn't have to be perfect, it's going to be covered with batting to smooth it all out anyways. (I've even cut 2" foam with a scissors before and it cuts fine, it just makes your hand tired, LOL, which is why I think they'd recommend the electric knife) I'd definitely cut it to the size of the base and not smaller, and you're right to wrap the batting around and staple that on the underside. Good luck, they are going to look amazing!


    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 12:05PM
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You could also try a sharp blade or serrated knife.

Yuck, those cushions really looked bad underneath. lol

BTW - Have I missed a thread with your new fabric choice? From the little I can see in the top photo, your fabric looks like my living room chairs.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 1:57PM
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You can cut that foam with anything that works. Electric knives work great, but with thinner foam, scissors work fine too.

Gorilla Glue is great, but you have to be very careful with the foaming. I've used it when I think it's done foaming, and it's not, and once that foam hardens, you can never get it off. I won't let DH use GG on my furniture anymore. I find that Elmer's Wood Glue works just fine and is much more controllable.

If you don't have a clamp that works for that particular joint, you can wrap twine around the entire chair and pull it tight. That works too!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 2:40PM
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I agree that Elmer's wood glue is a better choice. You can buy an inexpensive strap-style clamping system from Lowes or HD. They are designed with a strap that goes around all of the chair legs. Sand the joints before you apply the glue so that it has something to stick to.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 2:48PM
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newhomebuilder: I agree they are totally icky. Looks like someone just recovered them with some inexpensive white fabric--probably before reselling it to the owner I bought from because I cannot imagine anyone who was actually keeping these chairs in their house just leaving all that stuff below. I had shown some pics of my fabric in an earlier thread. Johna was so kind to pass along some extra fabric she had used for her DR chairs. It's this one:

which I am most DEFINITELY going to scotchguard, though there is no way I'd ever allow those kind of stains to accumulate on any upholstered items in my house. You have to wonder what type of manners these people had!

mclark/powermuffin: I think I'll get the Elmer's glue as I know what you are talking about with the foaming glue and knowing me, it'd probably drip. Twine and/or the clamping system sound good.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 4:37PM
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Valinsv, that fabric is stunning. Can't wait to see the final result!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 4:57PM
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That is beautiful, but I was looking at the yellowish fabric in your first photo.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 5:08PM
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That fabric was the current one that unfortunately was in a really bad state, though I could see it working really well with slipcovers. It had a lot of little blotches over it plus I felt I needed a richer fabric to complement the patina of the carved mahogany. I actually really like the orginal fabric despite it's deplorable state. Interestingly enough, it's quite similar to Johna's that I will be recovering with.

I'm on my 4th chair. Ah, my aching back. The 3rd chair had some longer tacks that were a bi*ch to pull out.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 6:24PM
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I have to say, i deeply admire you for taking this on. I can only imagine how you must have felt to see that "ick" revealed, and i can also only imagine how utterly self-satisfied you'll be to have restored these chairs to a state of glory yourself.

What an inspiration. Please keep us posted with pictures along the way.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 6:53PM
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One of the problems with the 2nd picture fo the damaged chair is the glue in the joint is stronger than the wood....so when something has to give.....it's the wood that splits rather than the joint.
Don't use Gorilla glue on fine antique furniture. Elmers is a lot better choice.
Linda C

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 6:57PM
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estreya: I never would've taken this project on without the online support of this forum because I know there are people who've done this before who can help me out. It is actually very satisfying working with antique furniture and to try preserve and protect it for future generations to enjoy. They just don't make furniture like this anymore and there is so many little indicators of the hand craftsmanship.

lindac: That is the chair that concerns me as you can see it is the wood that has split off from the joint. I'm not quite sure what to do about it--other than glue around that area and clamp.

I checked the two chairs in question a little more closely. Nothing is actually loose and there was a small sliver of wood that was wedged in the separation on the 1st chair before (which I still have). I'm not quite sure how I'd push it together--perhaps there is old glue holding it in place? The other one with the cracked V in the wood also is not loose. Perhaps it was already glued earlier--in which case what do I do about it?

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 7:23PM
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It might be possible to knock that chair apart and re-glue it. It depends on what kind of glue was used. It the joint loose already? Are the joints secured with just glue, or are there metal screws, bolts, or wooden pegs?

If you can get the joint apart, you can probably scrape or sand the dried glue from the joint and re-glue it.

Do you have a rubber hammer?

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 8:06PM
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Beautiful chair. I'm glad you gave me a heads up. I just purchased 4 similar to yours that obviously need new seat covers. I don't know what I'll find hidden either!! I'd never just recover an old chair. I'm too bed bug conscious. Not knowing what's hidden would give me the creeps.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 9:45PM
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Now you need the drink after all this hard work!! Tell DH a manicure is on him when you get it done:)
I sure didn't know Gorilla glue wasn't good - it is just what my DH always uses when we have to glue something!

Your chairs looked so nice before - I would have never imagined all of that was underneath them. I am glad you are more of a perfectionist than me & removed everything. You trusted your gut. Your children will be fighting over who will get this set....you have put so much love into it.


    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 8:48AM
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mclarke: I think I'm going to wait for my DH to get back to tackle those chairs.

brutus: I'd definitely at least investigate what is below before recovering anything that you do not know the history. I actually think the majority of the stains are some sort of varnish/stain as when I washed the chairs today with Murphy's oil soap there was a residue that came off. Go figure, since at some point someone also took the trouble to screw off the seats and recover.

Johna: Wine, I wish! I'm thinking I need to go in my whirlpool tub, only I'll probably need to clean the jets first as I've not run it in awhile.

I didn't make as much progress as I'd hoped and have revised my estimate for this project from one to two weeks. My house was a disaster zone and I wanted to put up some Christmas decorations. Usually DH does the tree lights, but I have to do this year and some bulbs had fused. I finally gave up trying to fix it and went to Target for new lites--and then I got the suction cup thingies so I can do lites on my front windows like was done on the dress your front door for Christmas thread.

So, what I did do today was to clean and put Restore-a-Finish on three of the chairs (with solid joints). I wanted some feedback as it seems the original finish had worn off in some places--like the upper back of the chairs and the wood pieces that go from one leg to another. At the same time the chairs have a wonderful patina to them that I did not want to remove so I was not able to fully correct the missing finish areas with Restore-a-Finish.

Before (after cleaning):


    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 12:42AM
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WOW! Those look gorgeous!

I think you've made amazing progress. Your hubby is going to be thrilled to bits.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 1:06AM
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The RAF did a beautiful job restoring without taking away patina. I found it to be a good product when I worked on an old sideboard I bought at the coast through Ebay. The finish was black and the RAF brought it back, without destroying all the old look. It was a lot of work for me, though, as I'm sure it was for you.

Thank you so much for the closeups and many pictures. It's so funny that some threads with a lot of shots of particular items will get quickly passed over *yawn) but when you're interested in something...........for someone to post the detail is so wonderful. I have my six shield back chairs bought in Spring in my garage. DH made new plywood seats to replace the old horsehair and straps, but I just haven't found the energy to get working on them. Plus, I finally finished the seats on my set in use, and of course, it's much easier to just use what's done. Plus-plus....the dining area only gets infrequent use anyway. But you, my dear......have now re-energized me with your hard work. I am going to pull out those chairs and my fabric and decide once and for all whether to tackle the re-upholstery myself or pay my guy to do it. On the phone, he quoted me $50 per chair 5 months ago. I may just call him and see how busy he is right now. Mine are not just recover seat and pop in either. They need some finesse that I'm not sure I have.

I am agog to see yours done. You are using that stripe, yes?


    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 2:16AM
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Wow! Those look great! Your RAF procedure really made them beautiful . . . I haven't done anything like that for years, but am making a note of that product just in case! Keep us up on your progress. I love the fabric you're using.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 12:13PM
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Red: Initially, I was thinking of doing it in time for Thanksgiving, but couldn't get everything together in time, then since Johna so kindly offered me her fabric, I had to make use of it--so we can all blame Johna I'm in the midst of this project two weeks before Christmas. JK!! :)

I glad you are enjoying the detailed photos. I wanted to document it all as sometimes people just see the before and after, but the during photos I find the most educational for people considering a similar project--plus let's me know if I'm on the right track.

I think this is the most challenging application I've done so far with RAF. I did my drum tables first and they turned out beautiful, but these are much more distressed. It's a tough call what to do as I'm worried if I scrub too much I'll rub the existing finish off--which I think I may have done a bit in the photos I posted above as I don't remember it looking quite that worn before I started. But, the shield area are all quite dark--patina or dirt?? Who knows? I'm finding there I can scrub harder, but that area is still darker than the rest. Perhaps that is all the patina? I'm wondering if the wood/finish is sensitive to sun as my tables leaves are also quite a bit darker--can't even think about doing the table right now--summer project for sure since I'm freezing my b*tt off in the garage. For all this work, I'd say $50 per chair is pretty good. I'm finding it takes me one hour per chair to do RAF, and another hour per seat to remove and I've not started the reupholstery yet. One good thing is that the original upholsterer marked a center line on the seat bottoms where I noticed he then used to line up the stripes so they went even from top to bottom plus he used the same stripe for the centers of all the chairs. I'm going to do mine the same. For me (personally), I find a kinship with the original craftsman when I work on this furniture and can more fully appreciate all of the nuances that went into the construction--which I think is probably getting to be a lost art.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 12:42PM
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Wow! That is amazing. I think you should do an infomercial for RAF.

How fun to watch the transformation.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 1:57PM
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"One good thing is that the original upholsterer marked a center line on the seat bottoms where I noticed he then used to line up the stripes so they went even from top to bottom plus he used the same stripe for the centers of all the chairs. I'm going to do mine the same. For me (personally), I find a kinship with the original craftsman when I work on this furniture and can more fully appreciate all of the nuances that went into the construction--which I think is probably getting to be a lost art."

Beautifully said.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 6:12PM
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